Saturday, September 27, 2014

It's Called Intestinal Fortitude. Get Some.

When I originally wrote my Fool’s Paradise column for The Wheel of Fortune, I was – ironically – in a bit of a ‘Fool’s Paradise’ about the precarious nature of life and the uncertainties of fate.

I wrote the column less than a month ago, and – from a very emotionally safe place - explained the nature of the card. In summary, I stated how it dealt with fate, the ups and downs of life and the impact of the ‘seasons’ we experience in life.
Al at the Marine Corp Marathon

This was approximately one week before a dear friend of mine was killed in a sudden, freak accident at the tender age of 48 – that is less than a year older than my current age. But I don’t think it was his age at the time of his death that upset me so much. Rather, I believe it was the suddenness of it that alarmed me. Well, that and the huge impact his passing had on just about everyone who knew him.

Add to that the guilt from having lost touch with my friend due to family and work responsibilities in the last few years, and you have a dangerous witches’ brew of intense emotional turmoil.

Oh, there were many comments like, “I should have made more of an effort,“ and “If only I had known,” and “I would give anything for one more chance…”  But I knew this thinking was just my conscience seeking a way to sooth itself. I also knew this ‘logic’ was a complete waste of time.

The fact of the matter is there were no more chances, there was no more time and there wasn’t any way we could have known what that day would’ve brought when we woke up that morning.

When I heard about Al’s death, I sank in my seat and wondered why he was chosen. He made this world such a bright place. He was fun. He was adventurous. He had a great sense of humor. He never let things get to him. He was the type of person everyone loved to be around – as evidenced by his memorial service.  The fact is I will never know the reason. I can let it torment me or I can accept what happen despite the sadness I feel.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I realized a huge reason I am so sad at Al’s passing (other than the obvious reasons) is because I feel like a part of me died with him. I am not talking about the type of bond one shares in an intimate relationship. That is not how we rolled.

Rather, the loss I feel with Al’s passing is more like the death of a piece of my life – a part of my personality. I hope that doesn’t sound selfish or insensitive, because it is not meant that way. I thought the world of Al and I (will) miss him for all his many wonderful qualities. However, my friendship with Al was forged at a time when we were both young and innocent. Even though we met in our late teens, it is safe to say we grew up – into adulthood – together.

Our friendship connected us both with a time when we were adventurous and carefree. Somewhere along the road – probably around the same time we lost touch - I stopped being adventurous. I started playing it safe, being a mom, and embracing the predictable and comfortable.

Al, on the other hand, was able to maintain that zest for life he always had. He was able to do all the things I did plus keep his passion for living. He didn’t waste time, he didn’t pass up good opportunities and he didn’t mince words. I can actually imagine him reading this column and almost hear him now saying, “Okay, Scannell. That’s enough. Get to the point.”

The point is that Al taught me – both in his life and his death – about the precious (not precarious) nature of life.

Al’s life was a living testament to the energy associated with the Wheel of Fortune card. Al had his ups and downs but he never let either define him. For instance, he arrived into this world welcomed by his family under happy circumstances, but as an adolescent things changed, and he had to learn to depend on himself. These early hardships only served to strengthen his resolve about leading the life he had always dreamed. His wife Tami recently told me one of Al’s favorite quotes was, “Life is hard. Wear a helmet.” I love that because it really epitomizes the veracity of his spirit.

Al was never afraid of the turning of the wheel. He understood at any point, his ‘luck’ could change. That knowledge never deterred him. If anything, it inspired him to ‘seize the day.’ Al was too busy living to worry about dying.

And that was probably Al’s final gift of friendship to me. His passing reminded me that I should dust off that adventurous, fun-loving spirit I packed away years ago. Just like the message of the Wheel of Fortune, Al’s life reminded me that our experiences on earth should not be feared. Rather they should be accepted despite the fact that they can fluctuate wildly between every day joys and unanticipated painful acts of fate.

Al knew that rather than cowering in fear of what might happen, it would be best to embrace each moment for what it brought. This philosophy is the essence of the Wheel of Fortune. Living this philosophy is about being alive and brave in an existence marked by complete uncertainty.

I have thought a lot about my friend in the last few weeks, and I have wondered how he would’ve responded if the tables had been turned – if it had been me who died suddenly in a tragic accident. I wondered what he would think; what he would say as he looked at my pictures during my memorial service. Obviously I can’t know for sure, but I do suspect he would’ve been feeling pretty sad about my death and maybe feeling a little guilty, too. He wouldn’t have liked the situation, but he would’ve been accepting of it. That is the kind of guy Al was – he rolled with the punches.

I know if I had the opportunity to speak with him now, he would tell in no uncertain terms to suck it up and continue on with my life. I think his exact words would be something like, “It’s called intestinal fortitude, Scannell. Get some.” And that is what the Wheel of Fortune reminds us to do: Enjoy the good times, Accept the bad times and Be brave in the face of the uncertainty we call every-day life.